Sunday, September 12, 2021

Graphic Novel Series Review: "The Last Man" by Brian Vaughan, Pia Guerra, Goran Sudzuka and Jose Marzan Jr

A couple of weeks ago I was watching tv and an ad came up for a new show called "The Last Man" and they were like "based on the acclaimed graphic novel". The show looked interesting (a plague wipes out every man (?) in the world except  for Yorick, a smart but lazy loser with his pet monkey Ampersand. I. being myself, was like well if I'm interested in this and I'm too impatient to wait for the show to come out looks like I will have to read the graphic novels instead so I know what happens! And I did. I love a good graphic novel series that isn't superhero related (no offense superheroes, just not my favorite form for you) and I hadn't had a good GN readathon in awhile so I was excited to get at these. The confusing thing about GN sometime is that they come in different editions and issues, my library had the whole series in 10 books, so that's what I read. It worked out well!

So, Yorick, our loveable loser and his (male) monkey Ampersand survive a plague that wipes out every male animal and human on the planet. I really like this concept because of it's far reaching implications, many of which are addressed in the novels. Like think of al of the industries that the men outnumber their female coworkers (government, airline pilots, shipping, oil production, military, etc etc). Yorick's mom is a senator who suddenly finds herself as the President because of the line of succession. She sends Yorick away with Agent 355, a mysterious Secret Service agent, to get him to a famous doctor who may be able to find the secret to Yorick's survival. Yorick agrees to go along with 355 but the whole time is mostly just concerned with trying to find Beth, his anthropology student girlfriend who was in the outback of Australia for school when the plague hit.

The novels take place over a series of 3 or 4 years as Yorick, 355 and a cast of other characters make their way across the US and then the world in search of Beth and the answer to Ampersand and Yorick's survival. There are Amazons (an angry, violent group of women who pillage and murder and burn down sperm banks), the Israeli army, Yorick's super angry sister Hero, drug runners, submariners, rogue agents and more. 

I really enjoyed this series. All of our main characters were inherently flawed but good and cared for each other in a realistic way. It felt like the stakes were high and they weren't afraid to put our characters in danger. I will be tuning in to the tv show when it starts this month!

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

What I've been reading - Poetry, Mythology, and WWII spying, oh my?

 "Wild Embers - Poems of rebellion, fire and beauty" by Nikita Gill. I have struggled since forever to find poetry that speaks to me, I just feel like I should have poets or poems that I like and I've not been able to find a collection or poet that really speaks to me. Enter Nikita Gil. A poet I found on, wait for it, Instagram. Super short, powerful, feminist poems lend themselves easily to Instagram. I was not even through this short book when I was on my library website ordering her other books and hoping online to buy copies of this book for all of my friends that are having summer birthdays. Love love love. 

Also by Nikita Gill "Great Goddesses: Life Lessons from Myths and Monsters". Lovely lyrical prose and short poems about some familiar (Medusa, Hera, Aphrodite) and some less familiar, along with some personal favorites (Persephone, Hecate) from the lore of Greek and Roman mythology. Mythology doesn't always value women (looking at you, Zeus, you horrible thing) but this book elevates these women and goddesses and tells their stories which so often get swept aside. Also, loved loved loved.

"Transcription" by Kate Atkinson. If the name Kate Atkinson sounds familiar it's because she wrote the INCREDIBLY popular book "Life After Life". I was picking up some library holds and walked past an endcap and saw this book and thought I'd give it a shot. It follows a woman named Juliet Armstrong throughout 3 different time periods - 1940, 1950, 1981. Juliet gets pulled into the world of domestic spying with a mysterious boss, a dog that is being held as ransom, and some home-grown Nazis who are making plans if the Nazis to succeed in crossing the channel. I thought one of the most interesting things about this book was the 1950 setting, you don't hear much about Britain immediately after the end of the war and what the adjustment out of wartime feels like. 

"The Deep" by Rivers Solomon. I heard the premise of this book and was immediately drawn in - it was interesting to me that you could take such a heartwrenching idea (pregnant female to-be-slaves were thrown over the sides of ships that were transporting them from their countries) and turn into something mystical and ethereal (like the babies from these women survived their attempted murders and became sea creatures who have the memories of their ancestors. It has some decidedly Giver vibes. And it's a short story so it's a super fast read! 

"What Should Be Wild" by Julia Fine. A little girl grows up isolated in a crumbling old estate with her dad. They are isolated because anything alive that she touches will die or anything dead that she touches comes back to life. Which you know is problematic but then the more I thought about it the worse it got - uh wooden spoons coming to life? Leather car seats? Eeeeeek. The story is a little convoluted - family curse, something evil in the woods, alternate universe things, CW for torture. Kinda felt like it wasn't as interesting as I wanted it to be, but it has potential. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Book review: "Exterminate All the Brutes: One Man's Odyssey Into the Heart of Darkness and the Origins of European Genocide" by Sven Lindquist

 I know, I'm coming in hot with the feel good book review. But you can't be that surprised right?

I picked up this book because I was watching the HBO "hybrid docuseries" (whatever that means) of the same name. The HBO program was so well done and interesting and even though it's 4 hour long episodes long I've rewatched it several times. The book is one of three works that they base the series off of. The whole program is about basically, genocide. It covers a lot of areas - Native Americans and the establishment of the United States, the terrifying colonial takeovers in Africa, more modern acts of genocide like the Holocaust, Rwanda and the Balkans and slavery all around the world. It is heavy material but I learned so much and it was really beautifully and artistically done. Also, my boy Josh Hartnett is in some of the recreations (which are not cheesy). Anyway, if you have HBO I'd truly recommend it.

Okay, on to the book!

I love the opening sentences: "You already know enough. So do I. It is not the knowledge we lack. What is missing is the courage to understand what we know and to draw conclusions." Ah yes, the scary part - self reflection and change.

So Sven's book focuses on Africa. It's kind of a historical reflection and interspersed with it is his own travels through Africa as a writer - but it's far more historical reflection than travelogue. (Though it's funny to hear him talking about lugging a wordprocessor and tons of floppy disks (amazing! so convenient!) through Africa on buses through the dessert. Another touch point that he uses is the book Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Joseph Conrad was ahead of his time when it came to writing stories that DIDN'T glamorize the British colonial era (looking at you Kipling). There were some real life Kurtz figures in history and he talks about them.

It can't be overstated how much the Africans were viewed as non-humans. An example of this in the book is that there was a certain type of bullet that was prohibited in warfare between "civilized states". It could only be used for big game hunting and colonial wars. No shooting other white folks with it but if you want to shoot a lion or an African, fair game. The bullets were designed to break into pieces which lead to infection and festering. If the initial shot didn't kill you immediately it would eventually. 

This book was also the first time that I had heard of the Guanche people. They were the "first people to be destroyed by European expansion".  They were of African origin but lived on what we now call the Canary Islands. There were about 80,000 of them. Then in 1478 Christopher Columbus' patron sent an expedition with guns and horses to the island. By 1483 there were only about 2,000 left. Mostly women, children and the elderly. Almost complete extinction of a people in less than 5 years.

Here's an interesting quote: "(at the time of Columbus' arrival) many scholar's believe that there was roughly an equal number of people in Europe as in America....during the following 300 years the population of the world increased by 250%. Europe's increased fast by around 450% - 500%. The original population of America fell by 90%".

Monday, June 28, 2021

Book Review: "Ariadne: A Novel" by Jennifer Saint

I must have been on a mythology kick after reading Nikita Gill's book because I found myself drawn to the book that I am reviewing today. I remember parts of this story from the wonderful Myths and Legends podcast that I listen to frequently but this book expanded on the story and told the story not from the prospective of our hero ("hero" is in hard bunny ears quotes, per the usual when it comes to a lot of men/half men half gods in mythology) but from the perspective of our two main female characters - Ariadne and Phaedra.

Ariadne and Phaedra are sisters, and daughters of the terrible King Minos of Crete. If you dig deep into your knowledge of Crete you may remember it as the home of the Minotaur. Through a terrible agreement between King Minos and the government of Athens, 6 Athenian youths (6 of each gender) were sacrificed every year to the terrible Minotaur who was trapped in a impenetrable labyrinth beneath the palace. The Minotaur is the half brother of the princess because, well, gods and goddesses are jealous and terrible and petty and these things happen. (Also if you're like "Why does the name Ariadne sound familiar?" I would say "Hell, good memory - it's the name of Elliot Page's character in Inception - you know the girl who designs the mazes and levels. GOOD CALLBACK CHRISTOPHER NOLAN. I SEE YOU).

Theseus is a prince of Athens who has taken the place of one of the condemned youths and Ariadne is instantly smitten by this man who has made this sacrifice and his steady, calm nature. She finds him in his prison cell the night before the human sacrifices are to be pushed into the pitch blackness that is the labyrinth so that they can get hunted and eaten by the beast. He woos her and she agrees to help him and he promises to whisk her away from her privileged but terrible life in Crete to be his bride in Athens. Ariadne insists that her little sister comes with her and Theseus agrees - they work out an escape plan, from the labyrinth and then from Crete where they all go to Athens and live happily ever after.

It...all very nearly goes to plan. Kinda sorta.

The main thing that I liked about this book is that we get to hear from the women in these stories, usually the women are just the props used by the gods/men in these sorts of stories and they are not much more than "oh wow, yeah it's too bad the gods are awful and petty". It also is told in rotating chapters between the two sisters. It started really strong but then kind of petered out for me towards the end. However, it was a fast read and held my interest most of the time. If you are a fan of mythology this would be a good one to pick up!

Monday, June 7, 2021

What I've been reading...

 F*ck Feelings: One Shrink's Practical Advice for Managing All of Life's Practical Problems by Michael Bennett and Sarah Bennett. Funny name, serious topic. Here's what I liked the most about this book, in each of the different chapters (f*ck communication, f*ck parenting, f*ck assholes) they talk about the things that we FEEL like we should be able to control about the topic and then what we ACTUALLY can control. We think that we have far more control over circumstances than what we do. Then after you get on the same page of what we can actually control we can be more realistic about what we can expect from ourselves and other people. Like "stop letting hurt feelings and anger control your decisions". So much easier said than done, right? A quote that I really liked from the titular "f*ck feelings" chapter was : "if some people don't want peace, stay out of the way of the bullets". Like, for real. Some people just want to watch the world burn.

The Dangers of Smoking in Bed: Stories by Mariana Enriquez. This author also wrote the amazing "The Things We Lost in the Fire" so I was thrilled that this, just her second work, was a another book of super creepy, kind of south american gothic horror. (If you were left cold by the very popular this past year "Mexican Gothic" and were looking for something a little more mature and scary I highly recommend this collection.) I had to make myself slow down and savor these stories, I was so excited I wanted to read through them as fast as I could because I couldn't wait to see what was next!

Murder in Amsterdam by Ian Buruma. I was excited to read this book on vacation but ended up feeling very meh about it. What I was hoping for was "Man, the Netherlands is a country made of a lot of immigrants which makes for some tension and weirdness especially after this murder so let's talk about the tension in a super progressive country that still has some old prejudices that it struggles with". But it was more like "Let's talk about these 3 specific politicians in depth and how they are liberal/conservative/antiMuslim/proimmigration whatever". So, wasn't quite what I was hoping for. I did learn some fun Dutch words though, which is always a plus.

Deacon King Kong by James McBride. My boss mentioned that while she was waiting for her first grandbaby to be born that she read this book and really liked it. She was really excited about it and said I should read it so I said I would pick it up (can you tell I'm a recovering people pleaser? And I really like my boss?) so I did. I tend to avoid the big famous book club book choices (they get so much publicity, they don't also need me to read it) and this was one of Oprah's so about as big as it gets - but it wasn't a book I would have picked up on my own so that's always a benefit. It was a pretty fast read, I found myself getting a little bored and had the big plot twist figured out pretty early but the characters were varied and interesting and there's 2 little background love stories that I really found myself cheering for their success. Hopefully my boss and I chat about it soon so I didn't read it "for no reason" haha.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Milwaukee Film Fest Viewing Part 2

Here's Part 2! (We also watched a couple of different short collections but those would be hard to review so, I'll just say that we did it!)

Coming Home in the Dark

This movie felt very up my alley until I started hearing a lot of people say how INCREDIBLY violent it was and then I got scared. We watched it anyway. It was violent, and a lot of people die but the violence is not shown very close up, so I thought it was fine. But just be aware going into it. Interesting, complex characters, great scenery, very tense and claustrophobic. I liked it. 

MKE Film description: Hoaggie and his family are having a delightful trip in the stunning New Zealand wilderness when they're approached by two mysterious strangers. It quickly becomes apparent this duo has malicious intent. While Hoaggie claims to have no idea why, he has a sneaking suspicion that his unsavory past has come back to haunt him. The brutality and terror that unfolds will have you second guessing that summer road trip you have planned.

I don't ever want to go to prison. Especially a prison where the guards don't even fake do anything to keep you safe. This was a really like, artistic, lovely kind of film considering it was in a prison and people def died during the movie. There was a beautiful, graceful, creativeness through it. I know it has been a favorite of many during the fest.

The Djinn - Like all good creature/horror movies, this movie wasn't actually about the horror of the creature but consequences of ours and the peoples around us actions, and sometimes getting exactly what you wish for. 
I love an indie creature horror movie because I'm always interested in how they are going to make for a good creature on a smaller budget and this movie didn't dissapoint in that way. There's a lot of whipsy/smokeyness to it which looked good and thats all I will say because I don't want to give too much away. The movie started very strong, and got a little weaker throughout but not by much. 

The ending was great but the only thing that irritated me about it was at the height of the suspense at the end they did a flashback and were like SEE, SEE WE'VE BEEN FORESHADOWING ALL THIS STUFF THE WHOLE TIME. DIDYA CATCH IT? And like, yeah I get it but having it shoved in your face at the end while you're in the moment kinda made it lose some momentum. Great acting, loved the dad part which felt like it was perfectly written for Richard Jenkins, but was lovingly performed by the actor cast. A very capable, introspective little horror movie. 

MKE Film description: Dylan and his dad have just moved to start a new life after the tragic loss of his mother. Dylan finds a mysterious book in a closet and reads about the Djinn, a magical beast that can grant wishes. Dylan is mute, so he wishes for a voice, but he fails to realize that he has to survive the night at the mercy of the monster.

I mean, it's pretty obvious from the description that Misha is not all that she says she is, but the story is more than that. Misha's whole, truthful story is (I think) even more compelling than her famous memoir. Of the two WWII related documentaries that I watched this film fest I liked this one the best.

MKE Film description: Misha Defonseca's story sounds too good to be true - an orphan escaping the Holocaust by hiding in the woods and living amongst wolves - but Misha inspires all she encounters. When her memoir's publisher starts to peel back one corner of this narrative, however, it turns into a detective story with twists and turns you'll never see coming. Hobkinson's film ultimately asks us to examine truth, belief, and trauma in the most tangled of stories.

I watched this movie actually in Florida and I was like, well, I don't want to be in the same state as some of these people. The Villages would be a prime location for a horror movie, and I can't stop thinking about how I want to write it, haha. I'll add it on my list of things to write. The four residents (well one interloper and 3 residents) were very interesting personalities and showed, I think, some common situations in this weird, Truman Show, overly manicured existence. 

MKE Film description: The Villages, located in central Florida, is the world's largest retirement community, home to more than 130,000. Following four residents who struggle to find their place in the extreme homogenized culture, this character study delves into the whimsy, banality, and bizarreness of life when you have nothing to do and all day to do it. With gorgeous cinematography, Oppenheim plays up both the serene and surreal images found in this "Disneyworld for retirees".

This was the "Super Secret Members Only Screening". The group that watches these movies together are between 26-36 years of age, so the only way that anyone had heard of Tiny Tim was the 26 year old who had heard him on...Spongebob Squarepants. Honestly, a little terrifying. A man who sings in a soprano voice, who plays the ukulele and looks like this.  I didn't know what to really make of this one to be honest. But, I do love me a weird documentary.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Milwaukee Film Fest 2021 Views (Part 1 - I was deep into documentaries this first week)

My favorite time of the year is happening, Milwaukee Film Festival. Again this year it was virtual and this year I purchased the Festival Pass (watch all the movies you want during Film Fest for $75, duh, yes and yes) so I was able to see a LOT of movies this year. I broke my reviews down into multiple posts, chronological by when I viewed them. The film festival goes until the 20th, so if there is something on the list that you like, act fast you might be able to see them!

 The Dry: This wasn't originally on my list of things to see but then I heard someone mention that it was based on a book and I was like "Hold on.....I think I read that book". And I did. If you (for instance) live with someone who is not into indie or weird movies and just want a straight forward, main stream thriller this is a perfectly good choice. I like Eric Bana. It was good to see him. Also, middle of nowhere Australia, hard no thanks. 

MKE Film Description: Based on the best-selling novel of the same name, THE DRY follows Aaron Falk (Eric Bana) as he returns home for the funeral of a friend. The small town is reeling from what looks like a murder suicide, but Aaron employs his detective skills to find out what really happened. Haunted by another mysterious death from his youth, Aaron has to reconcile his present with his past as he is confronted with suspects around every corner.

MC Escher: Journey to Infinity: This movie was a disappointment for me. The pull for this movie was that it was a documentary told in the artist own words, and I was like oh that will be interesting. But that was only the case for like...60% of the movie? And the VO actor was Stephen Fry, who I don't have a problem with but I think that he was the wrong choice for this role. The best part of the movie was the credits because thats when they were actually like "hey, every pop culture reference to this fella? Here it is". Inception, Labyrinth, The Simpsons, The Rolling Stones, he is everywhere!

MKE Film description: Featuring the Dutch graphic artist's own words (narrated by Stephen Fry), this illuminating documentary explores his well-known works through a less-well-known lens. Using animation to help us see these pieces again in a new way, audiences are asked to consider anew the celebrity of Escher, layered here with the philosophical power and profundity of his scientific thinking and biographical details that inform his worldview

25 Weeks: A Wisconsin Pizza Harvest: A hour long, short, sweet profile of a farmer who specializes in growing old fashioned wheat the old fashioned way here in Wisconsin. He grows wheat because he loves pizza and you need wheat for pizza. A great part of this movie was his cute little donkeys!

MKE Film description: Watch as farmer, filmmaker, and general Renaissance man Charlie Tennessen takes archival wheat seeds from planting to harvest with the help of his trusty barncats and three lovely donkeys. This meditative journey across 25 weeks (winter to autumn 2020) of weather, hard work, and persistence will make you appreciate food on a whole new level. Come for the pizza, but stay for the bucolic slice of life lived at a deliberate pace

The Meaning of Hitler: Because I am who I am I knew I was going to watch this one. The problem with this one for me was that I felt like it never really defined what it was trying to say. I was hoping it was going to be a little more focused on like, Hitler's influence on current extreme alt-right groups and it was kind of like that, but there was also a section about a guy who is a famous Holocaust denier. It wasn't a bad documentary it just felt like it kind of wandered. Some good art direction though.

MKE Film description: Taking inspiration from Sebastian Haffner's titular book, in THE MEANING OF HITLER Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker set out to explore what Hitler means in the current waves of white nationalism and antisemitism. Featuring interviews with historians and scholars like Martin Amis and Saul Friedlander coupled with time spent with Nazi hunters, microphone technologists, and the curator of the US Army's confiscated art collection, this Herzogian documentary offers an unexpected, refreshing yet sobering journey to help us know why this history remains urgent.

Rez Metal: This documentary follows a group of Native American's living on Window Rock Navajo Reservation in Arizona on their quest to bring notice to the plight of Native Americans (especially the very high suicide rate amongst their people) through their heavy metal band. It was interesting, I'll never be surprised by the terrible conditions on many reservations - it's a stain on this country.

MKE Film description: I Don’t Konform is a heavy metal band from the Navajo Nation in Arizona that uses their music to uplift a community devastated by suicide. They catch the ear of acclaimed Metallica producer Flemming Rasmussen, who joins the band in their hooghan to begin recording their next album. REZ METAL is a stripped-down celebration of the heavy metal spirit, and a compelling portrayal of a community channeling their raw emotions, ethics, and hope through music.